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Mounts drop first-place showdown with Barons, finish third in section
For the first time in their young lives, Ephrata was playing for a prize Tuesday when the Mounts hosted Manheim Central with at least a share of first place on the line.
The Barons, who have played in many big games before, looked like the team that had been there. Unfortunately, the Mounts, who produced their first winning season since 2005 this year, did not.
In the end, the veteran Barons, led by 6-9 senior swingman Taylor Funk, proved to be too much to handle on this night as MC pulled away late for 47-32 victory over the Mounts in a playoff-like atmosphere at jam-packed Ephrata Middle School.
“It’s the first time there was a moment for my guys all year,” Ephrata Coach Charlie Fisher said following the loss. “That was the first time where it was more than just a regular season basketball game. And it was the first time in their lives that they had to play in a moment like that, and we were nervous.”
Both teams came into the game off losses, and Manheim had dropped two in-a-row, but the truth was, the Barons and Ephrata were still tied with Lampeter-Strasburg for first place in Section Two going into the final night of the regular season and still in control of their own destiny.
But it was the Barons who took advantage. Focused on creating an up-tempo game, Manheim Central got a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds from Funk and led from the middle of the first period on en route to the huge win.
Brendan Holbritter led Ephrata with seven points. Micah Krauter, who shares leading-scorer honors for the Mounts with 9.7 ppg managed just six points before fouling out with 5:07 remaining.
Connor Hostetter chipped in with 12 points for a Barons team which forced 15 Ephrata turnovers and capitalized in transition.
“I think they’re pretty self-motivated,” Manheim Central Coach Chris Sherwood said of his players. “We have some senior urgency, I think you saw it tonight.”
The Barons (11-3 L-L, 19-3 overall) will need more of that urgency when they face L-S in a one-playoff tiebreaker for the Section championship on Thursday at Hempfield at 7 p.m. The Pioneers (11-3 L-L) took care of their business by defeating Cocalico 57-40 on Tuesday night, while Ephrata (10-4 L-L, 15-7 overall) took third place and will meet Section Three third-place Columbia Friday night at CV (6 p.m.) in an L-L League Tournament play-in game.
The winner of the Ephrata-Columbia match-up will advance to Monday’s Quarterfinals at Section One champion Lebanon (7 p.m.).
Although finishing third when they were either in first or second place the entire year, Fisher was still pleased with the big picture after Tuesday’s loss.
“I thought my guys battled and I was proud of them, but now, it’s back to the drawing board,” he said. “I told them, and I mean this wholeheartedly, 15-7 is awesome…it is awesome. But, we want to be better than OK. And that’s the ultimate goal. Now we go into the playoffs with an open mind. We didn’t get our goal. So we didn’t make our goal, now we have other goals and we’ll come back ready to go.”
Tuesday’s game marked a golden opportunity for the Barons and Mounts. The last time these two teams played on Jan. 13 was a low-scoring affair, with MC holding on for a 38-34 win.
This time, the Central boys wanted to avoid that style of game.
“We’ve been a second-half team this year if you go back and look at our numbers,” Sherwood said, “so actually we talked about coming out in the first half like it was the start of the second half.”
Neither team, though, shot particularly well in the opening minutes, with Funk and Holbritter trading “threes” in the game’s first 4:52.
But with MC building a 10-5 rebounding edge in the first quarter — five of those by Funk — the senior had two straight putbacks, and then Hostetter’s lay-up off a steal helped the Barons take an 11-6 lead after one.
The Barons’ losses to L-S and Garden Spot in their last two games were in the rearview mirror.
“We just had a bad week. It happens,” Sherwood said. “I credit it to we played eight games in 11 days, we had very little time to practice and then when things kinda calmed down, we struggled to get back the intensity that we had been playing with. Tonight, there was intensity in the gym.”
Facing a variety of traps, zone and man defenses from MC, the Mounts shot a miserable 1-of-20 from beyond the arc, and Fisher admitted his team settled from the perimeter.
“Way too much,” he said. “Our first seven, eight shots were ‘threes.’ That was the biggest thing. If I had 10 time-outs, I would have taken five of them in the first six minutes. We just settled, and why we settled was because (Central) did a good job of clogging the middle and we had to attack that from the back.”
Funk’s triple with 5:13 left in the second quarter gave the Barons their biggest lead of the half, 17-7.
Yet, even though Ephrata shot just 12-of-37 from the field, it was still within striking distance at the break, trailing just 23-18 going to the locker room after Holbritter dropped in a layup and Krauter buried both ends of a 1-and-1 in the final minute.
Then when Funk picked up his third foul with 5:19 left in the third, and Krauter sank one of two at the foul line to cut the Mounts’ deficit to 26-21, things looked to be getting interesting.
Asked if he had thoughts about what he was going to do with Funk in foul trouble, Sherwood said, “No, not at all. We would have played him with six. There was no question.”
As it turned out, Funk scored six points in an 8-3 run by MC — including a transition layup — which put them up 34-24 with 2:01 left in the period. That covered a span in which Ephrata went more than three minutes without scoring from the floor.
“We couldn’t score,” Fisher said. “I mean, we could stick to our game plan all day and we wouldn’t have scored enough points.”
Trailing 34-26 entering the fourth, Ephrata got as close as seven points, 35-28, when Larson Kopp knocked down a J with 6:37 to go.
But Hostetter’s mid-range jumper, followed by Funk’s layup in transition and a dunk, stretched MC’s lead to 41-28 at the 4:36 mark.
“We had to switch it up there in the fourth quarter, and that’s when things got away from us,” Fisher said. “We cut it to seven, and then they got an offensive rebound, and then it kinda snowballed.”
Xavian Rodriguez brought the Mounts within 41-32 with 2:58 remaining, but Ephrata — which shot just 3-of-13 in the fourth and was playing without Krauter for the final 5:19 — didn’t score again.
Hostetter sank both ends of a 1-and-1, then Kody Kegarise converted on a layup to make it 45-32 with 1:58 left, and that was essentially the game.
“That was big (getting the early lead),” Funk said. “We made shots and we didn’t let them get back in the game. We didn’t lose our cool. As you saw, the gym was crowded. They probably had all their students here. We’ve just to keep our cool and play Manheim basketball.”
Just like Sunday’s Superbowl, Ephrata’s game last Friday at Lampeter-Strasburg was a tale of two completely different halves. L-S led at the break by 15 points, while the Mounts outscored the Pioneers by 13 in the second half.
A near miraculous comeback, but a 54-52 loss. The outcome at that point, created a three-way tie at the top of the section race.
L-S owned the first half, taking the opening tip and racing to a 7-0 lead. Streaks were the Pioneer’s success story of choice with three additional runs of five or more in the opening half.
L-S opened each of the first two quarters with a three-pointer and the third period was no different, as they pushed the lead to 18. The Mounts comeback was on the slow track, as they found themselves behind by 16 with five minutes left in the third. Ephrata’s full-court pressure led to 11 Pioneer turnovers in that frame and a 10-0 run leading up to the final period. The lead stood at six.
“Eighteen (points) for us in the first half, I’m totally good with that,” explained Fisher after the game. “Thirty-three for them, not so much. The way our defense works, if you are shutting down the ball, they don’t get their shots. The only reason we weren’t able to execute was simply because we were flat.”
Fisher told his troops at half-time that they couldn’t win it in the third quarter, but they had to cut into the lead, which they did. The fourth quarter continued the frantic pace and the Mounts pressure drew them with two points twice in the last three minutes. Ephrata drew even with 20 seconds to go when junior Dilyn Becker (14 points) calmly sank two free throws to even things at 52.
Six seconds later, Krauter (12 points) went for the potentially game winning steal on a cross-court pass at mid court. Unfortunately, Krauter was whistled for his fifth foul, sending Pioneer senior Ben Sandberg (15 points) to the line. Sandberg converted both free throws and L-S called time out.
The Pioneers set up their own full court press, harassing the inbounds pass. The Mounts got the ball to Becker and the Pioneers retreated. The Ephrata junior worked his way to the top of the key, where with five seconds remaining, he attempted the game winning trey. The shot struck the back of the iron but was tipped out to the right side of the court into the waiting hands of sophomore Zack McGillan. His three point attempt rimmed out, ending the frenzied comeback effort.
“I am beyond proud of my guys for how they came out in the second half,” added Fisher. “We put ourselves in a position to win a basketball game. It just didn’t go our way the last 14 seconds of the game.”
Fisher also complemented his boys on how they have come together for a surprisingly successful season.
“We knew there were two things coming into the year. Are they going to buy into the system and are they going to buy into each other? They bought into both. Coming together as a team has been the major key for our success.”
Bruce Morgan and Kevin Frey contributed to this story.